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Downers Grove school officials: Too early to know local effect of pension reform

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 2:23 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:46 a.m. CST

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DOWNERS GROVE – School officials say it's too early to know how the massive pension reform bill signed Thursday will affect local districts.

Downers Grove School District 99 Superintendent Mark McDonald said lawmakers floated so many different ideas regarding pension reform in the last several years, it's hard to gauge what made it into the 300-plus page bill.

"I haven't had any sort of communication with major professional organizations to explain (the changes)," he said. "A lot of us are looking for that."

McDonald expressed relief that the bill does not shift the cost of pensions from the state to the local school districts.

"That's something we were concerned about here, and many other school districts were as well," he said. "Whether that's still coming down the pipe, I don't now."

Both the Illinois House and Senate narrowly approved the bill Tuesday, which is intended to fix the state's pension crisis by providing $160 billion in savings during the next 30 years. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill Thursday.

The bill aims to guarantee full funding of the state's pension systems by 2044, according to the Illinois Senate Democrats website.

“This landmark legislation is a bipartisan solution that squarely addresses the most difficult fiscal issue Illinois has ever confronted," Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement.

Opponents of the bill, including labor unions, say the deal punishes workers who paid into the pension system for years, but will now suffer because of the state's failure to make payments and other mismanagement.

Some Republicans said the bill's cuts were not deep enough. Labor unions have said they will challenge the bill's constitutionality.

"The bottom line is the (teachers) have consistently contributed their portion to the TRS pension fund," said Lois Graham, president of the Downers Grove Education Association for District 99. "The state of Illinois did not."

The House voted 62 to 53 for the plan, sending it to Quinn, who has said he will sign it. The Senate approved the bill 30 to 24.

The bill affects workers in four of five different state pension funds – state workers, public university employees, most of the public school teachers in Illinois outside of Chicago and the general assembly. Judge's pensions are not affected by the new law.

Illinois lawmakers failed for years to take action to fix what is considered the worst public pension problem in the nation. The massive underfunded liability has caused credit rating agencies to downgrade Illinois' rating.

The bill raises the retirement age for current workers 45 and younger, on a sliding scale, and also cuts back the 3 percent cost of living increases to only be applied to certain benefits. Workers will contribute 1 percent less to the plan.

School District 99 Board President Nancy Kupka said the district will need to spend the coming weeks studying the bill before it understands the local impact.

"It is something we will be talking about with our administration and our board," she said.

School District 58 Board President Sallie Lupescu said it's too early know how local districts will be affected.

"It seems to demonstrate some degree of collaboration between representatives in Springfield," she said. "As far as details and implementation, I think we'll have to see how that goes."

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